Reduce Your Work Stress & Burnout Risk Using ACT!

By Dr. Rob Purssey

Nursing is often a high stress profession, with difficult hours, systems, patients, colleagues, bureaucracy – you name it! These challenges mean that nurses and other health workers are more susceptible to burnout than other low stress professions, but is there anything we can do to help health workers lower their stress?

One of the key parts of burnout for health workers are the psychological effects of working with difficult clients. In particular “stigmatising attitudes” are particularly difficult for drug abuse counsellors. If we could decrease these psychological effects for health workers we could also decrease their stress, and degrees of burnout.

An interesting study compared the impact of ACT, multicultural, and educational training on professional burnout and stigmatizing attitudes amongst drug abuse counselors.

The ACT intervention significantly reduced stigma at follow-up and burnout at post-intervention and follow-up. In addition, reductions in burnout at follow-up significantly exceeded those attained through multicultural training. Changes in the ACT condition were mediated by changes in the believability of stigmatizing attitudes.

A study with social workers showed, amongst those significantly stressed, ACT significantly decreased levels of stress and burnout, and increased general mental health compared to a waiting list control.

The specific ACT intervention the study used was six 2-hour group sessions. The intervention included information about stress and relevant lifestyle factors (e.g. work-life balance, sleep, and exercise), behavior change strategies, communication and assertiveness skills, and training in ACT techniques for managing stressful thoughts and feelings, values clarification, and mindfulness practice.


To shorten that up, the just 12 total hours of intervention covered:

-information about stress, sleep, exercise

behaviour change strategies in communication and assertiveness

ACT skills defusion, acceptance, values focus and mindfulness

This recent study is very important for our frontline healthcare workers –the intervention resulted in increased mindful awareness and decreased experiential avoidance, as well as decreased perceived stress and burnout. Levels of mindful awareness and perceived stress were sustained at follow-up.

Learning ACT skills can help to significantly reduce stress for frontline health workers, and could be an effective tool to decrease stress for many other proffessions. Learning ACT skills can be easy, get started with our ACT Fundamentals resources page.

Check out the study here.


Dr. Rob Purssey

Dr. Rob Purssey

Psychiatrist, Director Brisbane ACT Centre

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